God's Perfume

August 12, 2012

Excerpt from 2 Corinthians 2:14-17

"But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God . . ."

Reflection by Martin B. Copenhaver

In scripture there are many descriptions of the kind of life we are to live.  The Apostle Paul offers a particularly vivid image.  He says we are to be "the aroma of Christ."

The image contains echoes of two different ancient practices.  One is the practice in the Temple of making offerings.  It was thought that the aroma of those offerings, as they wafted heavenward, were pleasing to God.  The other echo is of a Roman triumphal procession.  When a Roman conqueror returned from battle the procession would include the burning of fragrant incense.  Obviously, Jesus is not that kind of conqueror, but his triumphal procession also is accompanied by a sweet fragrance.   It is now so closely associated with him that to smell that fragrance is to feel immediately ushered into his presence again.

It's a wonderful image.  More than the other senses, smell has an immediacy to it.  So when I smell a certain kind of wooden mustiness, it's not that I am reminded of the attic in the home in which I grew up, it is as if I am there.  And I have to ask myself, "Why did I just think of that attic?  Oh, yeah, it's that smell!"  If I pass someone who is wearing the perfume my mother used to wear, I will turn around, half expecting to see her, even though she has been gone for a long time now.

To say that the sense of smell provides a stimulus for memory is somehow to say too little.  The aroma of something can transport you from the present moment and immediate surroundings to somewhere else entirely.

So Paul is saying here, "You are to be like that.  By the way you infuse your daily encounters with love, by the way you forgive your enemies, by the way you care for the forgotten ones, you are to be that sweet aroma that seems to transport people into the very presence of Christ."

Prayer

Spirit of Christ, help me experience you, to take you in, like perfume that transports me into your presence.

About the Author
Martin B. Copenhaver is Senior Pastor, Wellesley Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Wellesley, Massachusetts. He is the author, with Lillian Daniel, of This Odd and Wondrous Calling: the Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers.

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